Ella Bowden-Williams explores the family album and its effects on memory and materiality.

Embers of Inheritance

The family photograph is an emblem that constitutes time, and time passing. We look at these objects to help us remember our connections to experiences, places and people. They are lived memories— suspended in the frame and stilled into fragments, whilst they also act as a portal, through which family members can meet with the faces of those they would have otherwise never known. Family photographs will therefore always remain a precious possession in the domestic household.

I developed a particular fascination with my own family archive after thinking that all of the photographs we did have were lost in a house fire. Recently discovering the mass of images that survived the fire, I became fixated on the notion that the photographs that were lost were burnt away like deteriorating memories.

Many of the remaining archive images showed traces of the fires happening, visibly recognisable through smoke damage and burn marks. Whilst not all of the images showed indicators of the fire, they did, however, indicate marks made through human contact, including handwriting, rips and tears, scribbles and folds.

The materiality of photographs here became an important feature to me. There are just as many stories concealed within the history of the photograph’s existence as a physical object, as there are in the photographic depiction of a memory.

Photographs act as catalysts for triggering the memory, however, whilst the photograph only reveals a fraction in time. Our memories too are a disjointed and fictional interpretation of events unfolding.

My work investigates the mystery behind the stilled family photograph— a search for the discovery of my ancestral history. Pieced together through visual analysis, stories passed down in what could be considered partly fictitious recollections and my own make believe of what could have been. Using these elements, this project aims to uncover my personal connections and disconnections with my childhood and lost relatives.

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